Since the end of World War II, the trend in American manufacturing has been to offload work to cheaper labor markets. From 1946 to about 2000, almost every other nation had a cheaper labor market than the United States. As countries like Japan and Germany regained their industrial vigor with our help, they used our technology to innovate manufacturing processes to produce very high quality, reliable products in all consumer product areas. Now, those countries and many others dominate the consumption monkey in our society.
What have we been doing?
According to The Oklahoma Observer:
• Since 2001, we have closed 42,000 factories.
• Dell announced it will close its last large manufacturing plant in the United States, eliminating 900 jobs.
• We manufacture zero cell phones.
• Since 2000, 5.5 million, about 32 percent, manufacturing jobs have vanished.
• From 1998-2008, the employment gain in overseas operations of U.S. affiliates increased by 10.1 million while declining by 21 million here.
• In 1959, manufacturing was 28 percent of our gross national product. In 2008, it was 11.5 percent.
• In 2009, fewer than 12 million Americans worked in manufacturing, almost the same as 1941. Then, our population was about 135 million. Today, it’s more than 310 million.
• Seventy percent of today’s gross national product comes from consumption.
• Today, 43.6 million Americans live in poverty, the highest number since records began 51 years ago and the highest, per capita, among “first world” nations.
The data illustrate how eager American businesses are to avoid paying American workers American wages. Ironically, the recent geological events in Japan have shown how truly fragile this global economy can be when Mother Nature states her case.
The GM plant in Shreveport, La., builds Chevrolet trucks. One of the 20,000 parts is made in Japan, where the devastation occurred. It is cheaper for GM to buy the part from Japan rather than build it here. But without that part, the assembly line stops and 923 workers are furloughed. Ford imports paint pigments from Japan for its black and red automobiles. Without the pigments, no black or red cars come out of the factories and workers get laid off, according to the Observer.
Toyota Tundra trucks are built in San Antonio. The rear axles are made by Hino Motors in Arkansas. Hino imports a critical gear from its factory in Japan. With just-in-time deliveries in force, the Arkansas inventory is depleted per the production schedule predicated on regular receipt of parts from Japan. The gear plant in Japan was destroyed by the tsunami. The ripple effect is that 2,800 Texas workers will be laid off for lack of these parts in Arkansas. Hino workers also will be affected, according to the publication.
Add to these stories the fact that 84 percent of our printed circuit boards are made overseas and there is a security issue involved. All of our military and surveillance electronic equipment use printed circuit boards as the basis for their operational hardware. The boards cost less from overseas, but they are not made here. The number of those boards made overseas used in our critical and security systems is not known to me.
The point is that in the mad rush to maximize profit, we might have passed a threshold for securing our own nation. We’ve known for decades how poorly American corporate management regards its labor force, but that bias should not and cannot be used to weaken our country and destroy the middle class.
The only things we build are automobiles and military hardware. Cleverly, the military-industrial complex has created an archipelago of sites in every state and in the largest districts, so politicians are loath to cut waste or close bases in their districts to avoid political suicide.
So, as Stan said to Ollie: “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”
As someone recently wrote to me, “… Maybe we don’t need to educate anybody, because we don’t build anything anyway.”
There is this other archipelago of connected islands between good-paying jobs, money and consumption. If our people have poor-paying or no jobs, how are they going to consume? If our corporate moguls don’t want us to manufacture anything, what will we build?
I guess we’ll just leave it to the gods of free market enterprise like we did in the 1920s.
Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. "The Voter’s Guide to National Salvation" is a newly published e-book from Turner. You can find it at www.barnesandnoble.com/ebooks. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.